Difference Between Freestanding and Built-In Refrigerators

When remodeling your kitchen, you naturally want everything to look like it goes together. Where kitchens of the past were designed to highlight your appliances, the integrated kitchen is designed to blend your appliances in with your cabinetry for a more seamless appearance. Sometimes when I’m called to provide refrigerator repair, I will occasionally come across a kitchen where I need to ask the owner where they hid the fridge. When designing a modern kitchen, the first thing you should consider are the difference between a built-in refrigerator and freestanding.

Freestanding Refrigerators

Whirlpool freestanding refrigerator

The most common fridge design is the freestanding refrigerator. This will have the machine compartment, which contains: the compressor motor; refrigerant condensing coil; fan motor, etc., located in the rear of the cabinet. It is not physically attached when installed, and typically has wheels on the bottom to aid in moving forward. Now, not all freestanding refrigerators and freezers have wheels, and some may have floor levelers that need to be retracted to allow wheels to touch the floor.


  • Price: Freestanding refrigerators are significantly less expensive than built-in refrigerators. Hint: Choosing a counter depth freestanding refrigerator is a great way to achieve the “built-in” effect without the big price tag.
  • Moveable: Most refrigerators can be moved with minimal effort. This is especially helpful when you’re a renter or plan to move in the next 10 years. You can move a freestanding refrigerator to your new home with little hassle.
  • Deeper: A full-depth freestanding fridge averages at 30-36” (which is deeper than a built-in or counter depth model).
  • Easy To Install: Professionals are not required to install a freestanding fridge, and they’re much easier to maneuver should the need arise. You may need to connect the fridge to a water line from the house.

Freestanding refrigeratorCons:

  • Shorter Lifespan: When used as intended and with proper maintenance and minor repairs, a freestanding refrigerator made after 1995 should last in the 15-20 year range. Longer if your refrigerator is older and therefore better built, less if you bought a new appliance today or it was purchased for less than $1000. Built-In models can last up to twice as long or more, depending on the manufacturer.
  • Size: With an average volume range of 15-27 cubic feet, storage space can be limited if you start getting smaller than 15 cubic feet.
  • Shorter Manufacturer Warranty. This still varies greatly between models and manufacturers. Unfortunately, the warranty is one year for the entire appliance and that’s it. Some high end models still warranty the sealed system: compressor; condenser; evaporator; drier; all tubing and refrigerant, for up to 10 years in some cases.
  • Height/Width: Although freestanding fridges are deeper, they are relatively short and narrow compared to integrated built-in models.
  • Aesthetics: Freestanding refrigerators tend to have empty gaps between the fridge and the cabinets creating a crack, which accumulates dirt and grime. If you’re looking for a sleek, professional look, you might consider a shallow depth, or counter depth refrigerator. But, the trade off is less depth inside.

Built-in or Integrated Refrigerators

Built-in refrigerators are becoming increasingly popular for home use due to wider availability, more variation in design, and a vast upgrade in quality versus a freestanding model. A built-in refrigerator fits flush against the depth of your cabinets, giving it the illusion that it is built right into the cabinetry framework. The aesthetic advantages to a built-in fridge are obvious, but there are also some practical considerations.


  • Volume: With anywhere from 32-50 cubic feet of space, you can hold twice as much food as a freestanding model.
  • Taller: With an average height of 84”, built-in fridges are significantly taller than freestanding fridges.
  • Wider: Built-in fridges are wider than freestanding fridges, both on average and in terms of maximum available width.
  • Seamless: Built-in fridges are designed to be flush with your cabinetry which means that it doesn’t extend into your walking space or have an awkward crack on either side.
  • Built to Last: Most built-in refrigerators are made with upgraded materials and components. They typically last twice as long as freestanding models with proper maintenance and repairs.
  • More Luxury Options: Built-in refrigerators also tend to have more luxury features such as a wine cabinet compartment or touch pad computer system to monitor food usage/expiration.
  • Integrated Options: An integrated refrigerator will match your cabinets so perfectly that you won’t be able to tell there’s a refrigerator there! Many kitchen designers install the same cabinet design to the refrigerator doors. Some integrated refrigerators even look like an armoire or specialty cabinet set.

Subzero Built-In RefrigeratorCons:

  • Price: Built-in models are significantly more expensive than their freestanding counterparts. You can spend as much as $5,000-10,000+ on a built-in refrigerator.
  • Size: If you have a small kitchen, you might not have enough room to install a large built-in.
  • Not typically mobile: While moving a freestanding fridge is as easy as emptying, unplugging, tilting, and pushing, you may need skilled professionals to install and remove a built-in fridge.
  • Shallow: Built-in fridges are limited to a depth of 24” to match counter depth.
  • Repair on Luxury Items: Due to the addition of luxury options, there are more things to break down, and more expensive as well, when compared to a standard freestanding refrigerator.

Which Refrigerator is Right for You?

Ultimately, the decision of freestanding vs built-in fridges requires you to make a personal judgement. Built-in refrigerators look beautiful and can make your kitchen look like it was professionally designed, but the cost is significantly higher. And if you’re planning to live with that fridge for 20 years, you should make sure to choose the right model for you.

For a happy medium, a talented contractor can build a frame around a counter-depth freestanding fridge. This can give the illusion of having a built-in refrigerator at a much lower price.

Whether your fridge is built-in or freestanding, call A Fast Local Refrigerator Repair when your refrigerator is in need of maintenance.

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